Conference Networking -Making the most of your investment

Netherlands Embassy PR workshop


There are two sides to any conference, the sharing of knowledge in the sessions and the people you meet. 

Many conferences make the pitch for delegates based on who’s coming, the organisations represented and the opportunities this represents. 

But to make the most of the ‘soft’ side of these events, you need to do the following.

  1. Have a Game Plan

No point in going if you don’t know why you’re going. Your organisation may be the sponsor, or you’ve been sent along as a professional development opportunity, but you need a few reasons or goals to leverage the contacts you’ll be making.

You may wish to make some contacts in some new sectors you don’t have reach into, or gain market intelligence, or raise the profile of what your organisation does.  

The event may also be an opportunity to meet with stakeholders and have the off-line conversations that aren’t possible in a formal setting or engagement.

  1. Talk to as many new people as possible

Make the most of the free time, the breaks and seating opportunities. Aim to meet as many people as possible, and yes, that means introducing yourself to complete strangers.  

You’ve invested the time and money, make the most of it and don’t stick to some buddies and work colleagues, be proactive.  

The same applies when you’re there as a group- split up and maximise the number of people collectively you get to talk with. So at the conference dinner, aim to sit at different tables, or mingle in different parts of the room.

You may also have a list of delegates on arrival, or beforehand, and so do your homework and work out who to find and talk to, perhaps allocating several target people to each of your team.

You’re all in the same boat, in a room full of strangers, maybe far from home, and so you’ve got that in common, plus you’ve the program, speakers, content to talk about to start a conversation with.

Remember to get their business card / contact details along the way.

  1. Prepare your Narrative

Come ready with some talking points about what message you want to get out there. 

These can be relevant examples of your work and clients (so if you’re talking to someone from government you use a public sector example), something new your company is bringing to market, basically information you want the people you are talking to recall down the track. 

This should support and reinforce your networking goals for being there. If you’re in sales or business development, remember this first connection is just the starting point, don’t expect to close right there and then.

  1. Connect Afterwards

There is no point in doing the above if you don’t stay in touch.  Within a few days of getting back to the office write a personalised email to all the people that you met. 

Invite to connect with them via LinkedIn too so they can be ‘sticky’ contacts and an audience for your future updates.Depending on your objectives and their situation, some contacts will need further cultivating over time and so book some dates to stay in touch with them in your calendar.

  1. Debrief 

It’s vital that when you get back to your office that you not only share the information you learnt to your colleagues, or if you fly solo perhaps as a blog article, but also the intelligence you gained from the people you met.

The information may not mean much to you, but could be helpful to others and it builds up the corporate knowledge and may help identify opportunities and follow-up actions for the team.  

It’s also a good idea to write down information about the people you met in your contacts database while its fresh (at the airport waiting lounge perhaps) to help you remember them and inform your follow-up steps before you get stuck into the day to day work on your return.

AIM Leadership Conference 2017

AIM logoAs you may be aware already, for the past year or so I have the privilege of leading a passionate committee in the Canberra region to help inform and promote the local program of events and member engagement that is aimed at cultivating excellence in leadership.

But I’ve also been involved with several of AIM’s national program, and was one of the National Networking Week’s National Ambassadors in 2016 where I could draw on my deep understanding on how to leverage that crucial skill and activity as part of the week long program, including being interviewed for Business Insider and the Huffington Post.

So I was thrilled to be invited to be one of seven expert guest speakers at the upcoming national conference, Leadership Matters: 7 Skills of Very Successful Leaders.

This major conference will be held in Melbourne on the 24th March and I’ll be showing how to integrate professional networking into a contemporary leadership setting.

To learn more about the program, and how to register your place, please follow the link.

I hope to see you there!


AIM Conference logo

The Role We Play

cropped-banner_compass_1.jpg‘All’s the world’s a stage’ wrote Shakespeare, and I think that’s especially true for our work life.

We’re selected for a role, or we shape one for ourselves; and with that comes responsibilities, behaviours, and a defined place in the workplace culture.

If you’re a subject matter expert, then that role can be clearly defined, and for many people it’s comforting.

Most people want clearly understood parameters of their place at work: what’s expected of them, what’s makes for good work, their responsibilities + outputs and their reporting paths.

Not many are fans of ambiguity.

Many of us really just want to do good work, feel ok, or better, about it – and go home without it hanging over our heads.

For others the scope of the role can have fuzzy boundaries, especially in a leadership role where your accountabilities include managing people and team cultures, which by their nature are fluid and imperfect.

The role we play at work is intended to shapes our thoughts + skills to a particular end that serves the organisations goals. Collectively the workforce should bring to bear all that’s required for the collective to succeed.

But we’re more than out job title clearly.

We carry in us life + work experience, skills and qualities that are not always brought to bear in our daily work.  Especially over time in a role, many behaviours become routine or unthinking, and those other parts not directly relevant gather some dust.

The downside of this is that the organisation can miss out in a changing world and market place the skills and experiences in their teams that can be useful for it to adapt and thrive.

Ever had those chats at work, at a lunch or after work drinks, where you discover the other facets of a colleague. ‘I didn’t know you had done that!”?

Usually, we’re pretty shy of talking about our expertise unless prompted. Once in the job, after the interview, you just tend to get on with things.

But by creating conversations at semi-regular intervals in the workplace that can reveal these experiences, skills and interests you can reveal hidden talents that don’t see the light of day when people are immersed in their roles.  It could be that rather than a new hire, you’ve the skill set you need sitting next to you.  Another mechanism could be an intranet with a person’s resumes (even their LinkedIn profile) and achievements outlined that could be used when forming a new team for a project.

By creating a way for a person to reveal their skills, contacts and insights outside of their main role you can tap into a powerful resource and perhaps enrich the team members experience of their work.

Fundraising is a team sport

In any organisation that relies on proactively seeking sources of funding its common to engage someone in the role as a fundraiser. Whether the title is fundraising or development, or giving manager or similar the focus is the same: the bottom line.

Its all about attracting money to fund operations or some other aspect of the organisation.

The role itself might be funded by a grant has to fund itself through donations or some form of fundraising and under a short term contract.

This in itself puts pressure on the person  to succeed, and whilst common, is not an ideal model as the person may be very successful in many areas of their job but may fall short of fundraising targets at no fault of their own.

The rules may change for a grants program, or funding withdrawn by the government due to a change of policy. Or perhaps they get sick, or a promised donation falls through due to no fault of their own.

Another factor that goes against meeting targets is that cultivating donations, especially recurring or significant donations is that it takes time. Time to find the right contacts, make the connection, educate + inspire the prospect, build trust and rapport and then convert that into a donation.

If the contract for the fundraiser is for six months or a year, then in many cases the conversion of a prospect, particularly in the case of a high net worth individual.

So they can do everything right and still not land their targets.

There are many factors that can influence success or failure for a fundraiser that are outside of their control, and its no wonder that there is often high burnout rate for people in those roles due to the uncertainty and stress involved.

Another factor that can impact success in fundraising is lack of support by the rest of the team. At times the attitude can be: that’s their job, not ours, we’re the admin/ creative / finance team et alia.

So often the result is the person is out there on their own, doing their best, but they really need the support of the entire organisation in some form.

This is essential not just as a risk mitigation strategy, but can also be a catalyst to get the energy of the team to help drive fundraising activities in an coordinated way.

So at all levels of the organisation there is a role they can play from Board level, to management, to rank and file staff.   Itis important they have a shared understanding of the fundraising activity or specific campaign and given the tools and rationale to help it along by the fundraising manager.

They can have a role in lots of ways that don’t necessary take them away from their own responsibilities, but it give a multiplier effect to the activity. Some of the activities can include:

  • Contribute to the development of the fundraising strategy and offer to assist in its execution
  • Being available to test messages and tactics before the launch
  • Raising awareness of the campaign through their own networks including social media
  • Leading by example by promotion of the opportunity to give, giving themselves or reaching out to people that can donate, the old ‘get, give or get-off’ mantra!
  • Turning up and showing solidarity especially at fundraising events
  • Create introductions or open doors for the specialist fundraiser to start the conversation or follow-up with their peers once an initiate contact has been made to help convert the prospect, especially at the senior level
  • Ensuring their doing their bit to ensure the organisation is as attractive as possible to a potential donor
  • Amplifying the key messages that have been developed about what the organisation is looking to achieve with the funds raised, and the results of what’s been done with donations to date.
  • Help celebrate the wins and reflecting back constructively how fundraising initiatives can be improved for next time.

No one person can be solely responsible for fundraising for an organisation, everyone has a role to play in some way and can contribute materially to its success. There needs to be a go-to person who can design the strategy, create the opportunities, cultivate the leads design the activities and be the point of contact.

But by leveraging the whole team, then it not only multiplies the potential of the fundraising activity, but shows potential donors that the organisation as a whole has a team spirit, is invested in its future and is a good investment of their support.


The Outsider Within

outsiderIt is natural to want to work with people who share your values, sense of humour and validate your world view.

Most of us don’t want to be challenged or provoked on a daily basis. We just want to do a good job, work reasonable hours in a positive workplace, go home, get paid.

Strong and effective teams are often those who share the same vision professionally, been forged through common experience, and feel they have each other’s back.

But the reverse of that strength are teams that reinforce complacency, or accept less of each other’s professional standards because it gives them permission to ease off too.

They’re comfortable, and assume the default position of ‘good enough’.

Sometimes that’s the result of no leadership, or having a leader whose become their friend, and cannot exert any challenge else risk the good vibes they enjoy. Perhaps they’ve been together for years, and without realising it they’ve created a space that reinforces mediocrity.

With poor motivation, members of the team in turn feel they’re only going to expend the minimum effort, because that is all they feel the job (or their pay) is worth, or how they’re valued.

Then there is also ‘this is the way its always been done’ culture. It speaks of inertia and a team that is no longer challenged to be better, or wants to learn from its experience.

Another feature of this way-too-comfortable culture is a lack of accountability and candidness with each other. There isn’t the feeding information up the governance ladder.  They’ve stopped caring, or feel that their superiors are disengaged with the reality of the workplace, so they tune out.

One of the common cures for these scenarios is the appointment of a new leader to be the ‘new broom’.  They’re appointed to rev up the team, set new standards and hold the team accountable.

More often as a result there is an attrition of team members who move on, and new people brought in and that can make a positive difference. A healthy purging.

Alternately, consultants are brought in when there is a manager or leader in place to provide a fresh perspective, but not every organisation can afford that luxury.

A third way is having a team member who has the perspective of an outsider. They might be a contractor or consultant to do a particular job, but rather than get cosy in the workplace culture, they are there to speak truth to power and reflect back constructively on workplace performance areas that should be challenged.

The role needs to be overt and their place understood in the organisation, so that any feedback, usually critical, isn’t seen as a negative or destructive tone for the sake of it. It is their job to retain to a perspective and help hold the organisation accountable to its own values and goals.

This may be mean some distance in workplace relations to help retain objectivity, but they are not there to be a spy or white ant team performance.

Their role is to have the best interests of the organisation at heart and help identify blockers that stop it realising its potential. They can also be a catalyst for change by challenging the team to higher performance, including the leadership team.

Over time as successes are achieved and recognised, the culture of self-reflection as a team may be embedded and the appointment may become redundant, its mission accomplished as the team becomes accountable to each other.

Alternately, someone in the team adopts the role for each project in turn and can offer ‘black hat’ perspectives in a constructive way.

But whatever means are used, all teams + workplaces can gain by having a perspective that challenges them to better performance + standards.


Thoughts on the Absent Leader

IMG_0836Delegation, autonomous teams, self-directed work, are they a cop out?

In 2015 the idea of directing every detail of a team’s work reeks of micromanagement and a sign of a poor performing team.

Of course each workplace and role is different, some positions require more direction that others, workplace organisation differs, and the experience of the person in the role will impact the level of management support required. In a knowledge economy the ideal is a team that gets on with the job to the required standard without the need of a supervisor, along with the expectation of a work-life balance culture.

In theory if you recruit well, and have good systems in place, then shouldn’t the appointment be perfect for the role and apply themselves with diligence? Of course its not that like in the real-world, we all being imperfect creatures and variable on a daily basis.

How far done the ‘hand’s off’ management road do you go before the leader is so absent that its every person for themselves in the workplace?

Having consulted across all sectors, there is no particular ethos for the public, not for profit, association or private sector. Sometimes the management style is laissez faire because the manager is simply too busy doing their own job to manage their team, other times its the culture of the workplace, sometimes its intentional and nearly always well-intentioned, but the results can be the same.

A few years back in conversation with a director of a a very busy commercial SME I was told that their management style was to allow their staff to get on with their job without their input, as to direct them daily would reflect a lack of trust on their professionalism.

There was no overall direction, no pulling together of the team on a daily or weekly basis,  no reflection on a job well-done or not, no vision or goals described, no motivation or accountability conversations unless asked.

There was just the annual performance review, or the opportunity to grab them for a decision or input on the fly.

The director applied the same approach to themselves, the result being the team not knowing if they were going to be in the office, and needing to manage upwards to get the input or decision point required, with a lot of energy second guessing what may be required on a daily basis. This resulted in a lack of relevance + authority of the leader to the team.

There was also a strategic impact on the organisation: with the workers acting independently, the potential of all the teams intellectual and professional capital being harnessed collectively to a goal was a missed opportunity.

The upside of this scenario was that the workers did collectively form a sort of accountability over several years. They made up for the lack of strategic + tactical direction themselves, with a token reference to the leader, which was admirable.

There was also a strong team culture formed by a core group – solidarity you may say.  The work ethic was strong, and this was just as well, for the workplace flexibility could as easily been abused.

But there was no overarching goal being worked toward, the focus was tactical, daily, weekly or project driven.  Like most organisations, I think, the only time anyone referred actively to the business or strategic plan was for governance reasons as a tick the box exercise.

It is said that most people want just a few things from their work:

  • Clear boundaries of what’s expected of them
  • What the professional standards required are of them: so they know when they’ve done a good job
  • Pride in their work and recognition
  • A positive work culture and association with their work
  • The opportunity to develop their careers and professionally
  • Reasonable work conditions, flexibility and renumeration.

Without an active and present leader in the workplace these norms cannot be established or applied consistently, and the vacuum is filled by subjectivity, personalities and short-term fixes, albeit often well-intentioned.

To my mind, its great to have professional autonomy in one’s work-life, and be treated as an adult who know’s what one is about. But without a collective vision of what the team is working towards on a daily, weekly or longer term basis, plus the accountability to ensure standards, the multiplier effect of a well-led team is lost.



The team + leadership appointments

typewriterIt is well understood now that most people leave a role due to their manager or workplace culture generally rather than as a purely financial driver.

Yet when seeking a successor to a manager or director, its usually the executive team or Board that both define the skills, qualities+ experience they are seeking and conduct the selection process.

But the people who have to actually work with them day in day out are rarely, if ever, consulted.  They are the ones who have to executive the directives of the new leader, know better than anyone the realities of what it takes to get the job done and are the ones most impacted by the skills + personality of the new leader.

Certainly management isn’t a popularity contest, and its rare a company can institute a Maverick/Semco solution where leaders are voted for, or key decisions are voted for via employee democracy.  But it seems to me a missed opportunity if the team are not consulted with when designing the selection criteria, or considering the qualities required in the workplace.

The appointment of a new leader is a risky and delicate moment for the organisation and team. The selection team or employer want to make sure the time consuming and expensive process sees the appointment of someone who can drive results quickly and see the organisation prosper.  They often take the opportunity to reshape the strategic direction or set new KPIs.

The staff naturally hope the appointment allows them to keep the things about the job they like, and improve on the ones they don’t, and the new appointment wants to shine and make a difference.  Everyone wants to win. But those ‘wins’ can be quite diverse and rarely shared with the main stakeholder groups.

With any appointment the risk is always there that there will be attrition from team members who don’t like the appointment for various reasons, such as personality, new workplace culture or the KPIs put in place as the new leader wants to put runs on the board.

I don’t think the risks are any greater or less if the appointment is from within or without. With the former there will be team members who are not fans of the appointment, or are too familiar for them to exercise effectively the new authority. So whilst they may seem the one who can step up easily with minimum disruption, they may come with baggage.

With an external choice, they may have a mandate from the people they report to make changes, or drive results that may be at odds with the current culture. But to carry that off they need to bring the team with them and attune to the workplace culture quickly. With advance insight from consultation as part of the process that can be done so much more easily.

By taking the team into their confidence and asking for input the selection panel can mitigate some of these risks as part of the overall mix. The team can provide insight into the workplace, the key needs of the organisation as they see it, and the qualities they see a new leader needs to have as part of the selection process.

As a group I suggest they will be mature enough to know that they are not going to get their next best friend by coming up with a wish list. The fact they are asked at all sends a powerful signal too that they are valued by senior management. Most people want the best for the place they work for, and understand that the next appointment will have responsibilities to answer for and there will be some changes they can expect.

The caveat, of course, is that they would have to understand that by presenting a shopping list of their dream boss will not result in that coming about, but at least they’ll have been heard

Through this consultation process those involved will have gained insights into the organisation they may not have otherwise received, had a chance to be listened to, and the new appointment can be well briefed on the team’s perspective, leading to a well-informed appointment.